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New Book Addresses Religious Persecution

August 12, 2015

Calvin College

Daily news reports tell stories of the growing wave of religious persecution around the world.

From China to Pakistan, from West Africa to countries across the Middle East, people are getting killed and imprisoned for their faith.

And although persecution is growing at a fast pace among people of many religions, members of the Christian faith are being especially hard-hit, according to a book just published by social scientists from Calvin College and Redeemer University College.

For instance, a 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that, in a count of countries where specific religious traditions have endured sustained government or social harassment, Christians are at the top of the list, having faced persecution in 102 countries, say the authors.

“We live in a time of increasing religion-based conflict, instigated by both states and citizens … and the Christian church bears a large brunt of it,” the authors write in The Church and Religious Persecution.

Published this week by the Calvin College Press as part of its new series of Calvin Shorts, the 40-page book examines the nature and scope of religious persecution worldwide, explores the response of the church, and proposes steps church leaders and members can take to stand up for religious freedom and build a faith-based movement against persecution.

“The book is a challenge to the church to move from complacency to action on the profound problem of religious persecution around the world,” says Kevin den Dulk, co-author of the book and the Paul B. Henry Chair in Political Science and the Executive Director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College.

Den  Dulk says the book seeks to address a complex and significant topic in a manner that can be of use to churches in practical ways.

“It is written with accessibility in mind. The book can be used as a springboard for discussion in several formats — for example, as a single adult-education session, or over the span of several weeks, each corresponding to one of its four very brief chapters.”

Den Dulk and co-author, Robert Joustra, director of the Centre for Christian Scholarship at Redeemer University College, are members of the CRCNA’s Study Committee on Religious Persecution and Liberty that is studying the issue and will present its final report to Synod 2016. It gave Synod 2015 an interim report this June.

The book begins by stating that daily media reports are filled with such familiar horrors as the “bloody insurgencies of Boko Haram or al-Shabaab in Nigeria, Somalia, and Chad; the monstrous killings of Christians and other religious minorities in Kenya, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, most recently at the hands of Islamic State militants.”

Across the Middle East, they write, whole populations of Christians whose heritage dates back many centuries have been wiped out.

Too often, they write, members of the Christian church have remained silent, looking at these atrocities and realities with a sense of despair, feeling as if there is little they can do.

But this is where the book focuses its attention, calling on churches to assume a role of leadership by realizing God calls them to address the issue of religious persecution just as church did in such struggles as the battle for civil rights in the U.S.

“The most fundamental thing the church must do is preach and practice a theology that religious freedom is for all persons,” they write.

Within the church itself, ongoing, fervent and focused prayer and worship are crucial.

Working to become more aware of the issue of persecution — through reading, discussing and listening to the stories of those who have been under persecution — is necessary.

Also key is to support those groups — such as Amnesty International, Freedom House, the Hudson Institute, and Civitas UK — that are struggling against religious persecution, they say.

In conclusion, they write, “The global experience of religious persecution is one of the great moral challenges of our time. It is terrifying in scope and brutality — but it is bewildering for the same reasons.”

The writers said they hope readers will see the scale of the problem and take to heart practical strategies to use in speaking out and implementing a response.

“The church has a long, though not untroubled, track record of exactly this kind of work,” they write. “Our argument is part of a much larger effort to catalyze Christians today around the reality of persecution and the movement needed to end it.”